GERD IS THE WORD: What is Acid Reflux Disease?

Acid reflux is a condition in which stomach acids and sometimes bile from the liver flows back up (reflux) from the stomach into the upper intestines and the esophagus, potentially damaging these digestive organs. Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the condition, which is generally chronic (that means it lasts a lifetime), occurs when the valve of the smooth muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, aka the lower esophageal sphincter, doesn’t function properly.

When you eat, the stomach naturally releases acid in order to digest the food you ingest. The lower esophageal sphincter protects the acids you produce from coming back up on you. However, certain factors can create less than optimum conditions, providing difficulties for this muscle to work properly.

These include:

  • A full stomach
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Lying down
  • Bending forward
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Obstructive lung disease, etc.

GERD can occur in children as well as in adults. In children, of course, it can be more difficult to detect and includes difficulties with coughing, crying, the ability to gain weight and so forth. Some children outgrow GERD; however, many do not. Millions of children are born with the condition in the United States each and every year. Not all of their parents will know about it.

For adults, it is much easier to diagnose. The most common symptom of acid reflux disease is, of course, heartburn. Other symptoms might be:

  • Sour taste in your mouth
  • Pain in the middle of the chest
  • Coughing and/or choking while laying down
  • Problems breathing while asleep
  • Hoarseness and/or vocal changes
  • Difficulty swallowing, aka dysphagia
  • Chronic ear ache
  • Nausea
  • Sinusitis
  • And more.

To receive a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease, you will need to see your doctor and take a detailed medical history. Certain tests may be ordered such as a barium swallow, esophageal manometry, 24-hour esophageal pH monitoring and even an esophagogastruduodenoscopy, or EGD for short. 

Depending upon the results of these tests, your doctor may require that you take antacids after meals and at bedtime. Some of the other medications he/she may wish you to take might be available over the counter or by prescription only.

These include:

* Tagamet® (cimetadine)
* Zantac® (ranitidine)
* Pepcid® (famotidine)
* Axid® (nizatidine)
* Prilosec® (omeprazole)
* Prevacid ® (lansoprazole)
* Regalan® (metoclopramide)

Of course, your doctor will also make certain dietary and lifestyle suggestions such as:

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting citrus and tomato products from your diet
  • Avoiding food and liquid at least 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Eating smaller meals more often during the day, instead of three large meals
  • Trying not to lift heavy objects
  • Refrain from bending forward at the waist
  • Discontinue wearing tight clothing
  • Elevating your head at least 6-8 inches while you sleep, etc.

The fact is that GERD is a troublesome and chronic condition that can often be painful. However, it is a manageable one. Very rarely is surgery necessary to repair the damage done by gastro-esophageal reflux disease. The truth is that if you follow your doctor’s advice by taking your medications if and whenever necessary and make the suggested lifestyle and dietary changes, you will be on the road to wellness soon.

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